Faith, particularly the Christian faith, which has provided the dominant narrative of the western world, has come under sustained attack in recent years. A few years ago, those dubbed ‘the new atheists’ (increasingly the old atheists) who view Christianity (and other religions) as no more than myths invented to give meaning to life have made it their purpose to discredit it (people like Hitchens, Atkins, Harris and Dawkins). One favoured attack is on the God the Christian faith worships. The biblical narrative of the slaughter of the Canaanites (Phoenicians), evidently sanctioned by God, is often advanced as a slam dunk objection to the Christian faith. Richard Dawkins no doubt had this history in mind when he referred to God as a “racist, infanticidal, genocidal…capriciously malevolent bully”. Like those who follow him, his argument owes more to invective than any attempt to understand what he is excoriating.
The slaughter of the Canaanites has become a rod with which to beat traditional Christianity, either from atheists without or from progressives within. How can a good God order the extermination of people groups? How could he sanction the killing not only of soldiers but also the elderly, women, infants and babies in a society? Surely such a God is a moral monster? These questions are presented as rhetorical and unanswerable. Such a God cannot be defended.
And Christians feel the force of the argument. Christians read these passages and normally feel more than a little uncomfortable. We cannot sidestep the issue, God did indeed command the annihilation of all the Canaanites and Israel carried out his instructions, even if they did so imperfectly.. In the conquest of Canaan, cities were conquered and none of the inhabitants were to be spared. We find this dismaying, even shocking. We are unmanned by it. And it is right to feel horror. God wants us to feel the horror of it. He wanted, Israel, who exterminated the inhabitants on his command to feel the weight of what they were doing. Perhaps more about this later. For now we simply underline that the Christian faith is not for the squeamish. The God of the Bible is no jolly rotund elderly uncle who exists simply to indulge us and make us feel good. The God of the Bible is a Warrior who does not shirk from vanquishing and butchering his enemies. We should allow this to sink in.
Ironically, it is only a culture arising from Christian values that is likely to question the slaughter of the Canaanites. It is Christianity that taught virtues like, love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness and the value of human life. It is the Christian world that eventually separated church and state making possible the removal of religion from wars; Christianity, properly conceived, does not enforce itself by the sword. The ancient classical empires of Greece and Rome, by contrast, would not have blinked an eyelid at the extermination of the Canaanites. The Islamic world is still not averse to holy wars that wipe out infidels. Dawkins criticism of racism, infanticide and genocide is the product of a conscience nurtured in Christian soil. When critics take the high moral ground they should remember that ground is Christian.
The truth is, however, the criticisms of Dawkins and his ilk are half-baked. They create a caricature and wilfully refuse to see the biblical perspective on divine judgements; for them human behaviour is neither depraved nor deserving of death. There is a shocking moral depravity in the Canaanite cultures that required their extinction. They were a moral pollutant on the earth. At one time Canaanite culture would have shocked us and divine judgement would have been expected. This is no longer the case, It is becoming increasing difficult for the West to perceive the moral degeneracy of the Canaanites for it does the same things. Israel’s attack on the Canaanites is unacceptable to many in the West because the Canaanites do not seem so terribly bad. We advocate sexual liberation and sanction the killing of babies. We view this as development not debauchery, enlightenment not evil. We are Canaanites. Only a generation ago the culture of the Canaanites would have raised the gorge of ordinary people. Not now. This is why Dawkins has the ear of the people and it is frightening. What God considers depravity we consider progress.
I want to suggest a couple of reasons why Israel’s holy war against the Canaanites is not as reprehensible as we may first think. To be frank I am writing for Christians for the arguments advanced will only be acceptable to those who see through the eyes of the biblical God and the biblical story. If you start with unbelief that is unwilling to look through biblical eyes you end with unbelief; you are already committed to another and contrary story. Only if you are prepared to look through the eyes of faith will the slaughter of the Canaanites make sense. It’s important to recognise we do not come to the Bible story from a neutral position. There is no such thing as neutrality. If we are to hear as we are meant to hear we must at the very least come with a willingness to hear. Reasons are given to guide our understanding and the question is whether we will listen to them.
Before looking at these reasons allow me to clear up a couple of misconceptions.
Firstly, the slaughter of the Canaanites was not genocide, certainly not in the in the sense we normally define the word. The Canaanite wars were not racially but religiously motivated. Canaan was composed of a variety of ethnic groups (Deut 7:1-5) Indeed, it seems individual cities were fiefdoms ruled by their own king (Josh 8:26-29, 10:22-27). It was not their ethnicity but but ethics that were repugnant; their moral and spiritual depravity were the reason they were annihilated. In this occasion, God used Israel as his instrument of judgement but the Bible shows God raising up various nations to depose other nations (Deut 2:10-12). He later raised up the Assyrians and the Babylonians to judge Israel who had become like the Canaanites.
Secondly, we should bear in mind that however disturbing the slaughter of the Canaanites seems it is as nothing compared to the cruelty of the Egyptians and Hittites in the second millennium and the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Greeks in the first millennium. God’s judgement was swift and humane compared to the tortures invented by these bloodthirsty nations. Sin has terrible consequences and justice is fearful.
Why did God command the destruction of the Canaanites? The answer lies in two areas
1. The nature of the biblical God
2. The plot of the biblical story
Who is the biblical God?
To the question, why did God command the destruction of the Canaanites the first answer must be that God is free to do as he desires and is not answerable to us. God is not required to explain his actions to us. He is God and can do as he chooses.
This is a difficult reality even for believers to accept because our view of God is often too shallow. The basic truth that undergirds everything in the Bible is that God is the Creator of all things. This means he has absolute rights over all he has made. He is the sovereign king who consults no-one and answers to no-one. When God is questioned the answer of the Bible is ‘Who are you to question God?’ (Roms 9) It is a very humbling answer. It is both futile and folly to accuse God. He raises up and casts down both nations and individuals; this is his prerogative. He is accountable only to himself and his own character.
In being he is sovereign and in character he is holy which means he is utterly transcendent and utterly pure; he is righteous in all he does. He acts justly. He hates sin in all its shapes and forms and intends to eradicate it from the universe. Yet he is also full of mercy and grace and compassionate love (Ex 32-34), qualities which mean he is slow to punish. He bears with our dissolute behaviour for a long time before he intervenes. But a point comes when his patience runs out and toxic sin that is a blight on all he has created and a defiance of his authority he finally judges. This is precisely what happened with the Canaanites.
The Canaanites were destroyed for one principal reason, they were morally corrupt, a moral abomination on the earth. In the language of the Bible, the land could stomach them no longer and vomited them out (Lev 18:25). They were guilty, we read, of ‘abominable customs’ (Lev 18:30) and ‘detestable things’ Deut 18:9
Moses says in Deuteronomy,
‘When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you.
Idolatry, witchcraft, soothsaying, sorcery and attempting to call up the dead were part of the Canaanite culture. In Leviticus we read also of incest, polygamous marrying of sisters, homosexuality, and bestiality. (Lev 18:30). All of these were repugnant to God and ought to be repugnant to moral right-thinking people. Cult prostitution in Baal worship involved the populace in fornication with temple prostitutes. Copulation was believed encouraged the gods to copulate and make the land fertile. Perhaps the most detestable of all the detestable things was child sacrifice. The firstborn child was often offered as a sacrifice to Molech – a god with a human body and a bull’s head (Deut 12:30). The behaviour of the gods shapes the depravity of their worshippers.
Its not hard to see the similarities with the West today. Malignant black arts, widespread sexual promiscuity, a range of corrupt sexual practices and a massive offering of babies on the altar of convenience and human happiness. Ours is a decaying culture travelling at breakneck speed down the road of the Canaanites. In some respects the Canaanites were refined, skilled in the cities they built and the artefacts they made; they were the West of their times, but the sophistication hid a rotten underbelly. The core was poisoned.
The Canaanite culture was in terminal decay. They had forsaken conventional morality and followed the voice of the serpent. Yet they are tenants in the Lord’s land and their breath came from him. They were beholden but had long since forgotten their obligation to the one true God choosing to enslave themselves to the gods of vice. What is God to do? They are a pollutant, a corruption, a cancer on the earth. How should a good God react?
It is not as though they were not warned. Four hundred years previously God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, both Canaanite cities, for their decadence, the final straw being the attempted gang rape of heavenly visitors by all the men of the city, young and old; the raining fire from heaven was a loud warning echoing through the centuries (Gen 19).
The patriarchs, who knew the one true God lived and travelled in the land of Canaan were a long term witness of the true God and a better way. But the Canaanites were heedless. Their evil only increased, Should a good God allow such a culture to continue? Should he allow debased people to live and disseminate their depravity? God is long suffering and doesn’t wish any to perish. It would be 400 years before he said, ‘Enough’. He waited until their evil had reached a high water mark (Gen 15:16). At that point he commanded their extinction and Israel was his instrument of justice. More about this shortly.
At this point perhaps we should pause and ask a question. Who do we trust? Whose wisdom is wise? Whose freedom is truly free?
Do we trust the non-god wisdom of atheism that leaves us with no absolute morality, and with permission to be our own god; nothing is forbidden unless it expressly harms others and even then it may be permitted (adultery!). Atheism is largely at peace with a culture like the Canaanites; sorcery, sexual incontinence and deviation and a casual attitude to human life both young and old find a home in atheism. Is this the wisdom that leads to life?
Or, is our god the simpering clawless god of therapeutic deism. He is probably the most popular deity today. He exists to satisfy our needs and make us feel good but has no answers for the realities of life. He indulges and never refuses; a genie He is the god of effete sentimentality. He does not build into his children the resilience for adversity. Do we want an indulgent God who has no answers to the tough questions of life?
Or do we trust the God of the Bible. The God who created al things; the Lord God from whom and for whom all things exist. The one who calls himself, ‘I AM’, the self-existing, sovereign, holy, merciful and good God whose goodness is not simply kindness but also moral rectitude (Ex 32-34). This God passionately loves righteousness and hates evil and will not endlessly tolerate it. He passionately loves people but insists that they turn from their evil ways and look to him alone for salvation and life. He is not a safe domesticated God, a genie from the bottle, but he is a God who is able to deal with the problem of evil and bring a new world of beauty out of the ashes of the old. It is this God that Christians trust.
The Bible is at every point a challenge to faith. The slaughter of the Canaanites reveals the God we trust. It is a dividing line. It asks, ‘Who is your God’? If he is not the God who vanquishes the Canaanites he is not the God of the Bible.
What is the Bible story?
We cannot know the Bible God except through the Bible story. We cannot understand the slaughter of the Canaanites if we do not understand its place in the Biblical narrative. Holy war (which the slaughter of the Canaanites is) can only be understood within the context of a story where God is active eradicating sin and renewing creation; the Bible is the story of judgement and salvation.
The Bible story preeminently reveals God. It begins with God creating all things. Humanity, we discover, is God’s crowning creation, creatures made in God’s own image. We resemble God and represent God in creation (Gen 1:26,27). Our role was to manage creation on God’s behalf and to enjoy it as his gift (Gen 1:27-31). Above all, we were made to have a relationship with our Creator; in this would lie our greatest joy (3:8). God looked on all he had created and pronounced it ‘very good’ (Gen 1:31). The future look rosy.
But it was not to be. Humanity, given personal agency, did the unreasonable and unthinkable – we rebelled against our Creator. Driven by the desire to be God and make our own god-like decisions we disobeyed. We listened to the beguiling voice of the serpent and did what God had forbidden. It was a fatal moment and it has shaped humanity ever since. Even those who reject the historicity of the fall recognise the profound analysis of the human psyche it describes; the human condition now is man at odds with everything, even himself.
From that moment the story of history becomes how God deals with rebellion in his universe. Put simply, God’s plan, in the face of rebellion, was to act in both judgement and salvation. He would destroy the evil and create a new world where rebellion and evil would be no more. Moreover he would populate the new world with a nation called from the old world. These would be those who repented of their rebellion and evil, and bowed to his sovereignty. Through the gateway of the cross God devised a means whereby those banished could be reconciled. For God, reconciliation was not an easy matter, It was not simply a case of forgive and forget. God is just, indeed he is the Judge of all the earth. A debt must be paid. Justice must be done. His eye for an eye (lex talionis) justice of proper equivalence must be honoured and so we have the story of God in Jesus being wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. The story of the cross only makes sense if you take seriously the God of the Bible and human sin. And those who will be part of the new world are those who look to Jesus as their sin-bearer.
The world has two humanities in conflict – those who come as rebels seeking peace and bowing to God’s authority and rule and those who follow the way of the serpent. In Gen 3 we read,
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall crush your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15)
Two humanities are juxtaposed, the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman. These are in perennial conflict. The offspring of the serpent is all who follow other gods or deny the true God. They are under the influence of Satan (Eph 2:2).. The offspring of the woman are those loyal to the one true God and trust in him. The promise is that some day a man would arise who would crush the serpent but until then the conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent would continue.
This conflict plays itself out in history and in the pages of the Bible.
The first thing we discover is that human rebellion has a consequence. For Adam and Eve it means first being expelled from the garden and God’s presence (3:22-24) and finally from the world by death (2:3). Judgement inevitably follows sin; the wages of sin is death. The basis of a pattern was laid down. Outside the garden we meet Adam and Eve’s first two sons. The conflict between the ‘seeds’ becomes apparent in the first family; Cain murders Abel and is banished to be a wanderer on the earth. Eventually human sin reaches such a level that God repents of creating man. He sends a flood to cleanse the earth and start again; almost all human life is eradicated; once again the earth is purified. Only Noah and his family are preserved; God always preserves a remnant, the seed of the woman must survive. In all three examples the land expels in one way or another those who have polluted it. The bible uses the image of vomiting. Lev 18:25
Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.
It is this paradigm that is at work in the slaughter of the Canaanites. Once again the level of sin is so great that destruction is necessary. The land is God’s and must be purged; like poison the Canaanites must be disgorged.
Like the generation before the flood, the Canaanites have polluted the land. Like the flood generation they are expelled from the land not by exile but by extinction; their culture must not be exported. The Canaanite slaughter is a kind of mini flood. The day of divine judgement arrives for the Canaanites. Time has run out. Land and life are God’s gift and he can take either or both whenever he chooses.
We should keep in mind that the Canaan wars were not ordinary wars, they were holy wars; they are fought to overthrow evil. Israel fought other battles that were not holy wars. They were not intended to eradicate evil but were fought for some other reason. Prisoners in such wars were not killed. They may be taken as slaves for seven years and the women captured may be married. Everything was the spoil of war to be taken by the nation. Most of this was the convention of warfare. Holy war was different.
In a holy war everything was devoted to the Lord (or deity of whatever nation). Normally both the people and their possessions were destroyed though some metals were kept by God (Josh 6:23-26). God was cleansing and reclaiming the land. He was crushing the seed of the serpent. The emphasis on God as the divine warrior is important. Israel, by itself, would not have had the ability to conquer the Phoenicians. We should remember that the foes they faced were formidable. They were large and intimidating (Deut 3). They were sophisticated and strong. A previous generation had wandered and died in the desert rather than fight them (Deut 1:26-32). That victory lay with the Lord was evident from the outset in Canaan. Firstly Joshua meets a figure who is commander of the Lord’s armies (Josh 5:13-6:7). He is told to march round the city and the walls would fall flat and this is what happened. Without firing a weapon the walls of Jericho fell down. It was clear to the nations that Israel’s God was fighting on her behalf. It is the Lord’s renown that spreads through the victories in Canaan. . Yahweh, the God of all the earth, the divine warrior, was judging the nations. Peter Craigie writes of the conquest of Canaan,
“it is the story of a group of people, few in number, and almost unbelievably weak and fickle in their spiritual loyalties, battling against mighty forces which were degrading, seductive and ruthless”.
Perhaps we should note in passing a currently popular evangelical view. Some think that the instruction to utterly destroy the Canaanites and the Joshua stories of the extinctions are hyperbolic; they are embellishments that are often found in epic stories of the past. I’m afraid this is little more than wishful thinking (Josh 11:10-20). There is really no good reason to think God meant anything other than he said when the ordered the death of every Canaanite. Moreover, the command to exterminate and the descriptions of the battles repeat too often the total ban (people and possessions devoted to destruction) be taken as exaggeration. It is a mistake to take the extravagant stories of godless cultures and equate them with Jewish law and history which held truth at a premium.
The command for hoy war was sober legal language firmly attached to the covenant (Ex 23:20; Deut 2:33-35, 7:1-26). It was integral to covenant legislation. Covenant language has all the formality and precision of a legal document; it is far from being hyperbolic. Moreover, in a later occasion, King Saul is commanded to engage in holy war with the Amalekites. He is told to destroy everything – man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. All are to be devoted to destruction. Saul carries out most of the command, however, he spared the Amalekite king, Agag, and the sheep. When Samuel finds them, Saul claims he kept the sheep for sacrifice to the Lord. The Lord is unimpressed. Agag is killed and the Lord rejects Saul as king over Israel (1 Sam 15). God was not employing hyperbole when he told Saul to devote all to destruction, he meant what he said. We do him no favours by trying to make reduce the God of holy wars to someone more palatable to our refined tastes.
Nd, the conquest of Canaan, is another stage in the ongoing battle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The seed of the woman (Israel) is crushing the head of the serpent (the Canaanites). There is in these holy wars a confluence of divine purposes being realised. Over 400 years previously Canaan was promised to Abraham and his offspring(Gen 12:1-9; 15:18). Around the same time Abraham is told that his offspring will be afflicted for around 400 years (Gen 15:13). He is told the Amorites (Canaanites) will be in the promised land for 400 years until their sin has become systemically poisonous (Gen 15:15,16). Now these two promises converge. Israel will inherit the land by destroying its inhabitants – not because they are righteous but because the Canaanites and because God is keeping his promise to their forefathers (Deut 9:4-12).
The promised salvation through the seed advances. The seed of the woman is prevailing over the seed of the serpent . Israel by grace is receiving the Promised Land and the Canaanites in judgement are being vanquished.. almost vanquished. What a deflating word ‘almost’ can be. Judges begins with further victories over the Canaanites. Then a discordant note enters. We read,
And the LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. (Judg 1:19).
The failure to drive out the nations was not an isolated incident, in fact it became the rule rather than the exception (Judg 1:20,25, 27-36). The seed of the serpent remained; the Canaanites were not destroyed. Soon the seed of the woman would be as dissolute as the nations they destroyed, The true serpent-crushing ‘seed of the woman’ had yet to come. Nevertheless, the story had advanced. God’s people had inherited the promised land and the seed of the serpent had been in great measure vomited out of the land. God’s plan was advancing.
The patten continues. Israel was warned not to adopt the ways of the nations in the land. If she did, their fate would be her fate. But Israel did learn from the cultures she failed to drive out. Eventually she became indistinguishable from the Canaanites even to the extent of engaging in child-sacrifice. The inevitable happened. The judgement of God fell on the nation who had become the seed of the snake. Assyrian and Babylonian exiles saw most of Israel in exile. Only a few would return, a remnant, the holy seed, a slender thread carrying the promise of a redeemed people as vast as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore (Isa 6:13; Gen 22). It would be around 500 years before God’s plans took another giant leap forward.
Matthew’s gospel begins by introducing Jesus as the son of David and the son of Abraham. His birth is miraculous. He is born of a virgin who has never known a man. The ‘seed of the woman’ in the most literal sense has arrived. This son of David and of Abraham is Jesus Messiah, God’s warrior king and son of promise who will crush the head of the serpent. The bright light of salvation has arrived who will destroy the darkness The judgement of the serpent and the salvation of the holy seed had arrived. It does so in a way the OT predicts but most if not all had entirely missed.
If you ask a Christian how he knows there is a God and what this God is like his best answer would be, ‘I know there is a God because I’ve met him in Jesus’. Jesus is God-like: God is Jesus-like. We can’t discuss all the God things about Jesus. The gospels are there to show us these. His works and words are echoes of God’s words and works in the OT yet in a way that could not be invented. We see in Jesus, God accomplishing the salvation and judgement that began at the dawn of time. The Canaanite wars are decisively fought by Jesus. He does not leave the serpent alive.
Jesus’ public mission is his preliminary battle against the forces of darkness. The forces that destroy run deeper than people and it is against these that Jesus wars. Joshua-like (Jesus is Joshua) he wars against the evil in the land. He casts out demons, heals disease, forgives sins, raises the dead, condemns false religion, reveals the colour of God’s kingdom and offers its eternal life to all who follow him. His miracles of renewal were overthrowing the kingdom of Satan. His exorcisms of demons demonstrated his superior power to Satan (Mk 3:22-27). Soon it would not simply be Satan’s kingdom that would be attacked but Satan himself for Jesus was heading to Jerusalem, the city which had so often been beguiled by he serpent.
The gospels are mainly about the last three years of Jesus life and particularly the last week of his life. The reason is simple, the last three years reveal his messianic credentials and conflict with the past week being climactic.
How does Jesus destroy the powers of darkness – by being destroyed. The victory model iis stood on its head. Jesus destroys the Canaanite, the serpent, by being destroyed. He does not kill the Canaanite he submits to the Canaanite killing him. The power of the serpent lay in the sin with which he accused his captives and by which he bound them. This power must be broken if there is to be salvation. Someone must pay the debt, take the punishment, enter death. This Jesus did. He became the Canaanite that he may free the Canaanite.
There is a very interesting feature in a holy war that we read of in Joshua Ch 8,
So Joshua burned Ai and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day. 29 And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening. And at sunset Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the gate of the city and raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day.
Perhaps it is an application of the law in Deut 21
And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.
Jesus became the cursed Canaanite king. He bore the ban, the anathema, placed on the Canaanites. He became the abomination, the detestable thing. He hung on a tree until sundown bearing sin and undergoing judgement as one cursed by God. He was sent into the God forsaken far country of exile and extinction (Ps 22:1,11; Isa 53:8). And we rejoice for we are all Canaanites devoted to destruction. Our only hope lies in the seed of the woman who took our destruction upon himself. He bore the penalty that he may break the power; he paid the debt that he may free the debtor. In this way Satan is overthrown, his power is shorn and he is shamed. Col 2:15
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
By paying the debt Jesus deprived Satan of his only real power, the power of accusation. And so in Jesus the war between the two seeds is finally resolved. It is resolved by a great reversal. The seed of the woman crushes the head of the serpent by permitting the serpent to bruise his heel. The seed of the woman submits to the judgement belonging to the seed of the serpent that he might rescue the serpent’s seed and make them his own.
There is a sense that in the death and resurrection of Christ – for he rose to new life as the first of a new humanity beyond death – the story is complete. At any rate the major battle was fought and won. D-Day was accomplished. In one sense, all that is left is the tidying up. Of course, it’s not quite as easy as that. D-Day may have been the decisive battle but there remained a fair amount of allied pain before V-Day.
And so the story of holy war continues a little longer.
We will not read in the Bible of Christian armies fighting physical wars to destroy non-Christian forces and advance Christianity. The crusades are not sanctioned by the gospel. Every war where Christians have taken up arms in defence of the faith was wrong. That is not to say the Christian is not at war; he is. He is engaged in a holy war just as deadly as the war with the Canaanites. The principle of holy war has not gone away but Christians, like Christ, fight in a different way.
Christians go into the world with the weapon of the gospel that is able to pull down strongholds. Our weapons are not ‘of the flesh’ (2 Cor 10:4). They include the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, which is able to destroy all false ‘truth’ claims (2 Cor 10:5). Our protection in the fight is the whole armour of God (Eph 6). Our weapon is a message supported by love. We conquer not by the death of our opponents but by our own death as we lay down our lives for others (Rev 14:1-5, 12:11)
This is not to say there is no present ‘judgement’, there is. Judgement always begins with the house of God. God judges his people in a variety of ways including excommunication from the church fellowship. Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden and Israel from the land then those who desecrate the faith are excommunicated from the church. God continues in his providence to judge the world.
And so the church strains towards V-Day. V-Day is the return of Christ. I sometimes wonder why the slaughter of the Canaanites disturbs some Christians as much as it does. It is true it was intended to disturb, especially those who were to execute the command. It was meant to teach them what God thought of corrupt cultures and deter them from going down the same path. However, the slaughter of the Canaanites is but short change compared to the final judgement. This is the day when,
‘the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints’.
This is the ultimate holy war. Those ‘Canaanites’ who ‘know not God’ suffer ‘eternal destruction’ as they are ‘banished from his presence’ In Rev 19, concerning this final holy battle we read,
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.
This is, of course, figurative language but it describes a fearful reality. In this grotesque unclean meal that parodies the marriage supper of the lamb all who have resisted God and his authority, whoever they may be, are slain by the sword and await final judgement (Rev 20:11-15). The ancient serpent, the devil, is imprisoned in the bottomless pit before being eternally destroyed in the lake of fire where he and his followers will be tormented day and night forever (20:10).
The coming of Jesus not only signals the death of the serpent and his seed but salvation for Messiah’s offspring (2 Thess 1:5-8). Those who are the seed of the woman in Christ become the inheritors of the new world, the new Canaan or Eden gifted to Christ and his bride Rev 22 says,
The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.”
Notice the similarities of those in the lake of fire to the Canaanite culture, especially ‘the detestable’.
This has been a lengthy sketch (for a blog) of the Bible story. I think it is necessary to understand the slaughter of the Canaanites. If we do not grasp the God of the Bible is a ‘consuming fire’ then we have for him badly wrong and we will find ourselves constantly on our back foot as we are confronted with God’s judgements. Own his judgements and compassionately point out the justice of God’s actions. Do not be embarrassed but the Canaanite wars – they reveal a God who detests corruption and judges it. But he is also a God who does not desire the death of any but that all would come to him and live. Be sure to stress the triumph of mercy throughout the world. Holy wars reveal a God who eradicates evil that he may renew the world.
We are left with the choice that we saw at the beginning. It is a question of trust. Who do we trust? Who speaks truth? Who id truly good? The godless god of atheism, the happy sappy God of of popular belief of the God of the Bible who is good but not safe.